Saturday, October 31, 2009

Luna Moth (Actias luna) Life Cycle

Luna moths are beautiful. This individual is a male. As is the case with many moths, males have larger and more feathery antennae than females. Female Luna Moths emit pheromones.  Males use their antennae to "smell" and find females.  Males also have slightly longer tails.   (Photo by Jo on 3/21/07.)

I happen to think Luna Moth caterpillars are also quite attractive. Their bright green color almost seems to glow. After emerging from their eggs, Luna Moth caterpillars go through five stages (instars) before pupating. The larger specimen in the photo above is in its fifth and final instar. (Photo by Marvin on 9/8/09.)

But even I have to admit: A Luna Moth pupa isn't much to look at. When a fifth instar Luna Moth caterpillar is ready to pupate, it crawls down into the leaf litter and uses it silk -- It is a Giant Silkworm Moth, after all. -- to bind several leaves together. It then spins a cocoon inside which the pupa forms. (Photo by Marvin on 9/12/09.)

I've removed most of the leaves in the shot above. You can see a little bit of the silken cocoon. I could carefully remove the pupa from the cocoon without harming it, but won't. The cocoon and leaves help protect the pupa and keep it slightly damp during the long wait until spring, so I will leave them in place.

(BugGuide has images of all stages in a Luna Moth's life cycle, including a shot of the papa without its protective cocoon.)

A little general information on Luna Moths from their BugGuide species page: In the United States, Luna Moths have been found in every state east of the Great Plains. Their primary habitat is deciduous forests. Adult moths only live about a week. They do not (cannot) eat as adult moths. Their only objective is reproduction.

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Thursday, October 29, 2009

SkyWatch Friday: A Rare Day With Sunshine

It's been a very wet October here in the Ozark Mountains of Arkansas. Heavy rain is falling as I write. Today's rainfall will bring our monthly total to well over ten inches. Many days filled with mist, fog and/or overcast also occurred. The photo above was taken on one of the recent, rare sunny days. This is the view from our road out -- up to the main county rain and "civilization".

Last January a severe ice storm caused considerable damage to the trees in our area. It was supposedly one of those once-in-a-hundred-years events. It's no exaggeration to say the woods around our place will never look the same within our lifetime. When the trees leafed out in spring, those leaves helped hide some of the damage. Now that the leaves are falling, the full extent of the damage is becoming visible again. At least these trees survived. Many others either snapped or fell over.

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Monday, October 26, 2009

Monarch Butterfly (Danaus plexippus)

Monarch Butterflies are probably the most liked and well-known species of butterfly in North America. So much information about them is available online, there's no need for me to duplicate it here. I'll just post my photos and a few links and call that a blog post.

  • BugGuide has many photos of the various stages in the Monarch's life cycle.
  • Journey North is an extensive site with migration maps, updates and other information. (The main Journey North site has similar information for several migrating species.)


Saturday, October 24, 2009

Marbled Orbweaver (Araneus marmoreus) - Female

A common orbweaving spider found throughout most of North America. This individual is a female. Males are about a quarter the size of females.

From Ohio State University:

Polymorphic - This spider has many color varieties. The most common form has an orange front part of the body (cephalothorax) with orange/white/black banded legs. The abdomen on this form is either orange or yellow with a pattern that resembles a face to some observers. Other color varieties include one that is very pale tan or yellow, sometimes with a black spot in the middle of the abdomen. (Photos of different color variations are available on BugGuide.)

Harmless - This species, as is common to members of the orbweaver family, is not known to bite humans. It preys on a variety of flying insects.

Nocturnal - The spiders build their web at dusk and either wait in the web or in a retreat near the web at night for prey to strike the web. Then the spider runs out and wraps the prey in silk. After the prey is immobilized, the prey is bitten and eventually eaten. Some individuals stay in their webs during the day, but this is not common. They typically rebuild their web each day, or at least the sticky spiral orb part.

Jo and I found this spider while on our afternoon walk. It was in the middle of the road dangling from a single web strand and swinging back and forth. Photographing was difficult. Many thanks to my photographic assistant wife for enticing the spider onto a stick and then manipulating the stick so I could take a few photos.

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Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Common Green Darner (Anax junius) -- Male

(Photo by Jo on 10/18/09)

A common dragonfly found throughout the United States and most of Canada. The large black spot in front of the eyes is distinctive for this species and is found on both males and females. Please see BugGuide for more identification characteristics.

A close up of the genitalia indicates this is a male Common Green Darner. For comparison, please see this image of female genitalia on BugGuide.

Adult A. junius are strong fliers and can be found just about everywhere, though they do have a preference for area near larval habitat: Still marshy waters, fresh and slightly brackish. We've seen several of these dragonflies over the past few days though our ridge does not qualify as prime larval habitat. I suppose they were just migrating through our area.


Monday, October 19, 2009

Sweet Potato Harvest

We received our first frost of this fall Sunday morning. Therefore, Jo and I needed to get our sweet potatoes dug or risk them rotting underground. The first step in getting the potatoes out of the ground was removing the wire cover. Deer have been in the garden feeding on the protruding sweet potato vines recently, making wire removal much easier. We didn't have to trim off the vines to expose the wire.

This plant with a couple of modest sized sweet potatoes was about as good as our harvest got. Some plants had no edible-sized potatoes. We've had paltry sweet potato harvest for the past few years. We've also enjoyed some great harvest growing this variety. I don't know what the problem is. We need to do some sweet potato growing research and, maybe, change varieties.

"Where's mine?" says Bucket. She's stationed herself between Jo and the bucket of potatoes, hoping for a sweet potato treat either intentional or accidental.

Rusty is watch, ready to join Bucket if Jo starts handing out sweet potatoes. Both dogs got an undersized potato when we were through digging. Giving it to them any sooner would have guaranteed and increased level of pestering by the dogs as we dug.


Thursday, October 15, 2009

Nut Weevil -- Curculio sp.

Acorn weevil meets leafhopper (9/11/09).

These robust-bodied, long-snouted weevils are fairly easy to identify to the genus level (Curculio), but a species ID is more difficult, though I think these are Curculio proboscideus. If so, several different species of oaks are their host plants.

A female has a longer rostrum (snout, beak) than a male, longer than her body. (Total length including rostrum is around half an inch.) The apex of the female's rostrum includes cutting apparatus that allows the drilling of a deep hole in a nut or acorn; eggs are then laid in the hole. Various species specialize in the nuts or acorns of particular species.

Shorter rostrum indicates this is probably a male.

Each female lays about 25 eggs which hatch in about one week. Larvae feed 6 to 10 weeks then chew their way out of fallen nuts and enter the ground where they spend the winter and spring. Larvae pupate in late spring and early summer. Adults begin to appear about the first of August.  There was an approximately 10 day period in mid-September when these weevils were numerous under our porch light.

An extremely long rostrum indicates this is almost certainly a female (9/16/09).


Thursday, October 08, 2009

Question Mark Butterfly (Polygonia interrogationis)

I was photographing flower flies when this Question Mark butterfly landed at my feet. How could I resist taking a few photos? This butterfly is in Question Mark's winter form. The hindwings are almost totally black on the summer form. According to Butterflies and Moths of North America: Overwintered adults fly and lay eggs in the spring until the end of May. The summer form emerges and flies from May-September, laying eggs that develop into the winter form; these adults appear in late August and spend the winter in various shelters.

A complete set of photos showing inner and outer wings on both summer and winter forms is available on the Massachusetts Butterfly Club site. These photos also show the question mark from which this butterfly's name is derived.

Range: Southern Canada and all of the eastern United States except peninsular Florida, west to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountains, south to southern Arizona and Mexico.

Question Marks overwinter as adults and seek shelter in wood piles and bark crevices. In colder climates many migrate south before overwintering, but some stay in place even as far north as New England.

According to Massachusetts Audubon: Larval host plants include elms, nettles, False Nettle, and hackberry.

Adult Food Sources: While this species has been recorded at milkweeds and asters, like other anglewings the Question Mark prefers to visit sap and rotting fruit, and even carrion or scat. This adaptation seems especially well suited to the late summer- overwintering-early spring brood whose nectar sources, at least in the northern part of its range, may be limited.

More information and photos are also available at BugGuide.


Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Obscure Bird Grasshopper (Schistocerca obscura)

Obscure Bird Grasshoppers like the female pictured above are common and widespread in the southern United States. They are also sometimes commonly known as Bird Locust. An Old World species in this genus, Schistocerca gregaria, is noted for its swarming and migratory behavior. It is the locust of biblical plagues. Fortunately, New World species are much less prone to swarming.

Please see BugGuide for more information, links and detailed identification information: Schistocerca obscura, Genus Schistocerca, Subfamily Cyrtacanthacridinae.


Thursday, October 01, 2009

Sticky Lip and Friends

An oak tree along our road out is oozing a watery sap. From bubbles and smell of the sap, I'd say the oak has a hollow inside where the sap is fermenting. The tree splits into two trucks about three feet off the ground. I'd speculate it was damaged in last winter's ice storm. Regardless, a wide variety of insects from butterflies to beetles are feasting on the sap. Below are a few of the sap-feeders I've been able to at least partially identify.

Four-spotted Sap Beetle (Glischrochilus quadrisignatus): According to BugGuide the scientific name for this genus of beetle is formed from the Greek glischro, meaning sticky, plus chilus, meaning lip. Sticky Lip seems and appropriately descriptive name for a sap-feeding beetle.

Picnic Beetles is the common name for these beetles because they are often attracted to sodas and, especially, beer consumed outdoors.

Longhorned Beetle (Neoclytus sp.) Probably an Ash Bore, but I'm not certain.

Scarab Beetle: Fruit and Flower Chafer (Euphoria sp.) According to BugGuide, "Adults visit flowers for pollen and/or nectar. Also take rotting fruit." Obviously, adults also like fermented sap.

A faded and torn Hackberry Emperor Butterfly (Asterocampa celtis). Often feed on sap as well as fluids from dung and carrion.

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